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The Illusionist

Sylvain Chomet

Based on a never-realised script by Jacques Tati, The Illusionist is an utterly charming delight directed by Sylvain Chomet. And there is no better man than Chomet to bring Tati’s story of the last days of music hall to life. Indeed, his first film, Belleville Rendezvous, paid respectful homage to Tati’s Jour de fête, and Chomet’s style of caricature is perfectly suited to capturing Tati’s subtle humour.

Set in the early fifties, The Illusionist tells the story of an ageing magician, Tatischeff, touring through Scotland with his magic show. After a rather disastrous outing in the Hebrides, the magician sets off for Edinburgh, accompanied by a runaway teenage girl he has befriended. Although he struggles to earn a living, this unlikely pair quickly becomes a harmonious but very platonic couple. Sadly, we all know it is inevitable that this happiness cannot last, and that eventually his protégé will grow up and move away.

Like Tati, Chomet’s characters are defined by the way they look and act rather than what they say. Dialogue is virtually non-existent - Tatischeff mumbles in French, the young woman from the Northern Isles speaks Gaelic, and there is a smattering of other accents here and there. The story is developed through situations and dramatic gestures.

Ultimately though, as much as the film is a love poem to Tati’s style of comedy, it is also a love poem to the city of Edinburgh. Chomet has turned Scotland into a dreamland, bathed in a radiant, beautiful light. Dundonians should be especially proud as a lot of the technical work on the film was done in Dundee, by local animators working for Ink Productions. Anyone involved in the production should be applauded - it is a beautiful gem.